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Delhi boys XC eyeing second SAL title; Denair rebuilding
Hilmar striving for successful outing
denair cross country
Denair head coach Matt Grooms (far left) is pictured with Uriel Gonzalez, Brigg Wenstrand and Grooms’ assistant and son Noah. - photo by EDDIE RUIZ / The Journal

Despite having small cross country programs, Hilmar, Delhi and Denair high squads have high expectations heading into the new season.

Last year, the Hawks of Delhi saw the varsity boys capture the Southern League title, while Hilmar continued to progress and came in second place on the boys side. Denair was building off their inaugural year for the program in 2016, and hoping to best their previous season.

“This is actually just our third year as a program,” said Denair head coach Matt Grooms, who has been there since day one. “I am also the assistant head coach for the track program and since my background is distance running it’s where cross-country fits.”

Denair, who has just 296 students enrolled at the school, has limited numbers and with it a small squad for coach Grooms who is expecting a solid three competitors.

“It actually works for us that they moved soccer from the fall to the winter, that is how we managed to get a cross country team was the section doing that,” said Grooms.

Senior Uriel Gonzalez and junior Brigg Wenstrand are returning to run with sophomore Pablo Flores.

“He won first at sections for Division-V last year,” said Grooms of Flores. “Right now, we are going to go forward with our guys as individuals and hopefully we can yield a full team but if not, we will move forward with getting those three to sections. They all have winter sports usually; cross country is a training ground for it.”

The Hawks of Delhi bring back just a handful of runners which include Fernando Tafoya and Isaac Garcia. Jesse Ponce is a newcomer as a senior, and coach Mayra Zavala is expecting a big season from him in order to achieve the SAL title once again.

delhi high cross country
The Delhi cross country team sprints under the heat in Thursday’s practice. - photo by EDDIE RUIZ/ The Journal

“Last year we took league and this year I am hoping to take league again,” said Zavala. “We are working really hard; a lot of our team did graduate but we have some good freshmen coming in so we hope to do well with them.”

Zavala is in her first year as head coach after being with the Hawks athletic program as a track coach for three years, and two in cross country.

“I am expecting good things from my freshmen Angel Ceja and Brandon Asumos,” said Zavala.

Zavala’s roster is made up of 20 kids total that includes just one female on the entire squad, Adriana Salazar.

“We are hoping she will qualify individually but try to have her in the top seven,” said Zavala. “I hope we get the league title, but I just hope it isn’t as close as it was last year. Last year was really close and came down to a tie breaker with Waterford. I hope it is not as close this year. They are pumped and happy and want to win again.”

Hilmar’s enrollment heading into the fall season is at 673, which means numbers can be limited, but the expectations at a school like Hilmar — with a winning record in other sports — is always high.

hilmar cross country
The Hilmar High cross country team practices earlier in the week.

“The tradition of hard work shines through in all Hilmar sports,” said Tremble. “We are hoping that the work we are putting in is building a program that makes our community proud to be called a Hilmar sport. The journey is still being written I can’t wait to see the exciting things that are occurring in the upcoming months and years. Last year we were a young team and the runners built a team that was competitive in our league.”

The boys placed second and the girls finished in fifth place after battling through late season injuries.

In total, Tremble said he is expecting to have 15 returners in a year where they are expecting to roster the most returners in the last decade.

“The boys are looking for a TVL championship and a team section birth for the first time in school history,” said Tremble. “The girls’ goal is to place in the top three at league and send three people to sections individually.”

The runners to watch are Ethan Barcelos team Capitan, Jon Muller and Alberto Alves. One junior to watch is Jonathan Chavez says Tremble, who is also a strong runner that is just realizing his potential last year by finishing eighth in the TVL final.

The girls team is very young with no seniors on the team, but three girls are returning from a strong subsection PR’s performance last year in Jacinta Alves (10th), Lexie Avalos (11th) and Andrea Yates (11th).

Kyle Barcelos and Carson cox are two sophomores who will sure to be hunting for a varsity spot said Tremble.

“Last year we saw the girls take their first invite title at Escalon invite. Injuries to our top runner stopped us from placing higher in the postseason,” said Tremble. “The boys were three seconds away from winning our first TVL title in program history. This excited the team to train hard during the summer and has energized the team to challenge for the title this year.”